The Clarens art scene that established decades ago has not only persisted but become a dynamic mainstay of the town, alongside fine accommodation and eateries. If you’re planning a trip to Clarens, you’re in for a very pleasant and awakening experience.
Before you go, remember that Mangaung is not on the doorstep of warm northern climes like Pretoria. Tucked into the Maluti Mountain foothills, Clarens has long been called ‘the jewel of the Free State’, but night-time temperatures can dip, so take all-weather clothing along. A fairly brisk three-and-a-half hour drive from Pretoria, Clarens is around 350km away, heading south on the N3 and then the R26. Named after the Swiss town of the same name where Oom Paul spent his final days, the dorpie established in 1912 has grown somewhat, yet retained its small-town can-do attitude.
You’re spoilt for choice in Clarens, from typical holiday activities to more serious inspection of various natural and historical features around town. For art lovers, galleries dot the small town, and a few notable ones worth checking out include the Enslin Vorster Gallery, the Johan Smith Art Gallery and the Blou Donkie Gallery.
There are numerous restaurants in town, and although used to the tourist trade, local eateries retain their service and menu offerings well throughout the year.
Wedding venues are quietly entrenched around Clarens as bespoke options for those looking for something different. Welgelegen Cherry Estate is probably the current epitome of the kind of beauty and muted mountain feel wedding couples would love to have captured in their photos.
If the natural world entices you, Clarens is the perfect spot to glimpse humanity’s age-old interaction with the environment. The Bushman art at Schaaplaats Farm is well worth a visit, as is the spectacular Liphofung Cave area.
The Clarens Brewery has made many a city slicker contemplate a move to the country, and if you want to see a good old countryside brewery making some good stuff, a visit to the premises is a must when in town.
If you’ve never been on skis or spend your life on them, the Afriski Mountain Resort is well worth a visit too. If you didn’t know that we have our very own equivalent of the USA’s Aspen, Colorado, go check it out!
There are local spas aplenty for those who associate a holiday loaf with catching up on some pampering (and Mont d’Or Hotel has a really welcoming spa). The Clarens Wellness Day Spa on the main street makes this easy for those who want to nip in and out.
Seemingly endless local tours abound from local cultural experience tours to the Golden Gate National Park trip, and even day trips to Lesotho to view various attractions.
Accommodation abounds in and around Clarens, and you’re seldom going to find nothing available. That said, don’t wing it and book only when you get into town, as you’re usually going to be frustrated by having to drive around a little, having limited your choices.
At Schaaplaats Farm where you can view Bushman art, accommodation is equally charming. Definitely one to book ahead.
Rates are reasonable all around Clarens town, as the local market has established a fairly competitive range that captures most B&Bs and other accommodation.
There are camping sites in Clarens too, but the most popular option is usually one of the B&Bs dotted around town. Rosewood Corner B&B, Millpond House B&B and Clarens Eddies Bed & Breakfast are all sterling options on bed and breakfast stays.
There are many other guest houses around Clarens, as well as a number of hotels for those who’d prefer a more luxurious stay. The Protea Hotel Clarens is a great option, as is the boutique Mont d’Or Hotel. Plus the Golden Gate Hotel not far off has chalet accommodation.
Roter Hahn is a now-famous German restaurant in town, but be sure to insist on German fastidiousness and punctuality, as service can be slow at times. Awesome beer and yummy food are staples here.
Sugar and Cinnamon is a wonderfully picturesque restaurant well worth visiting, although a stay should be at least a week if you want to sample most of the eateries in and around town. And if you have to choose because of time or budget, pop in at Gosto Portuguese Restaurant. The food is great and reasonably priced, and there’s something very lekker about eating fresh seafood in all that country air.
If you’ve decided you’re going to Clarens, book ahead and – if it’s possible – include a weekday or two in your stay. The silent and giant open spaces around Clarens really demand that even the limited countryside weekend activity is absent, to let you truly savour the Free State’s magic.
Good departure times from Pretoria sit around noon, as this will allow you a leisurely drive with enough summer evening hours to arrive, check in and go grab a meal before dusk becomes darkness.